We are in the middle of an exciting shift, and cutting-edge development means advanced AI is rapidly becoming a general purpose technology for industries around the globe.
However, if the UK is to grasp the opportunities science and technology present – be it for our economy, growth or productivity – the Government must urgently work with the private sector to address the reality of a skills shortage, and the widening gap in demand and supply within the UK workforce of science and technological talent.
The reality is that the UK is losing over £1.5bn per year due to the skill shortages, with only 26 per cent of UK graduates coming from science and technology based courses. This technological revolution will require greater investment by businesses to equip employees for a rapidly changing world of work.
Bloomberg is a technology business, and we see the impact of these shortages day in and out. As we look to hire more and more software engineers and data scientists, we are concerned that in the long term, the talent pipeline is stagnating when it should be exploding.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re unearthing some amazingly talented young data scientists and engineers who will go on to be the future technology leaders. In the last five years, we’ve doubled our engineering headcount in London.
Policymakers recognise that if we are to cement the UK’s status as a science and technology superpower, and lead the world in areas like AI, we must urgently address this skills shortage – or risk losing out on the international stage.
This does need to be a joint effort from government and business. But the private sector must be at the forefront of efforts to help bridge this gap in the workforce. Not just by providing pathways for young people, but also for more experienced workers looking to retrain or develop their skills. This means companies stepping out of their comfort zone and taking the initiative to work with the education sector to plug this gap.
On a deeply practical level, there is a shortage of science teachers in the UK to train staff. Bloomberg has partnered with Teach First to support the recruitment and retention of highly specialised science and tech teachers to tackle educational disadvantage in the UK, placing almost 4,500 STEM teachers in schools serving low-income communities. We know that making this investment now will mean we will have more access to staff in the future.
We are working to ensure a diverse spectrum of students learn the coding, technical and soft skills they will need in the years to come. Across the world, Bloomberg works with dozens of non-profit partners to deliver similar programmes.
These types of initiatives are essential in helping to equip young people with the right kinds of skills to be competitive in the job market, but also providing self-confidence, leadership, and life skills through science and technology. The private sector can lead the way. Ministers have a role to play, but they cannot do everything and where businesses are able to invest in these programs, they will reap the rewards.
Filling these shortages with brilliant workers also requires companies, especially technology and science firms, to be more inclusive, especially to women and other marginalised groups.
A fantastic example of this type of initiative is the Sutton Trust Career Skills bursary programme, which supports first year undergraduate students from underrepresented groups with a financial bursary, a mentor, work experience, and skills days. In short, coding in the UK can no longer be the preserve of white men (myself included).
This isn’t just about future generations, but bolstering our existing workforces to help meet demand. Given the pace of change, all organisations need to create as well as maintain an active pipeline of science-minded individuals to keep our organisations competitive. For the UK to capitalise on the technological revolution, businesses need to be leading the charge in shaping the nation’s skills base. This does not mean it’s the time for the government to drag their heels, but businesses have the resources – and the responsibility – to lead the charge.
Tom Rushall is Head of Engineering at Bloomberg London